Lives swept awayRescued tourists recount Pakistan flood horror
The 'monsoon on steroids' – as UN Secretary-General Antonio Guterres described the torrential rains that have devastated large swathes of Pakistan – has left more than 1,100 dead and a third of the country submerged by heavy flooding.
Fleeing through the darkness, the tourists from Lahore abandoned their hotel in the remote Kalam valley. Hours later, from the safety of higher ground, they watched it collapse and crumble into the thundering waters.
"There was chaos, everyone was rushing to save their life," said 53-year-old Yasmin on Tuesday after she was evacuated to Mingora. "We heard very strong bangs and then I saw the hotel we were staying in submerged in water. The sound of the water was so strong. It was like something had exploded."
In the panic, she witnessed the despair of a mother unable to hold onto her small child. "The child was shouting but his voice was overwhelmed by the gush of the water. His mother was trying to save him, but she couldn't," Yasmin recalled, choking on her words.
The boy was one of at least 21 people in the area lost to the floods, mainly due to collapsed houses.
Accounts of last Thursday night's horror have started to emerge after tourists were airlifted to safety by helicopter rescue missions – the only way of accessing remote valleys cut off by the flooding.
Thousands still stranded
All along the Swat river are the remnants of destroyed bridges, upended roads and the remains of hotels clinging to the banks. The water has receded, but it could be days before road links are re-established with nearby towns. Junaid Khan, deputy commissioner for Swat, said that up to 200,000 people were cut off.
More than 600 stricken tourists have made up the majority of evacuations – with women, children and the sick prioritised in an effort led by the military and supported by the provincial government's helicopter.
About 3,500 food aid packages have already been delivered – some dropped from the back of a helicopter when crowds of people reaching for the aircraft made it impossible to land.
The stunning Swat Valley, known locally as the "Pakistani Switzerland", is a popular destination for its majestic mountains, lakes and rivers.
For days after her initial night of terror, Yasmin's family sheltered in guest houses farther away from the swollen river until she could be rescued with her husband, who has a kidney condition, and her 12-year-old daughter. Her two adult sons stayed behind.
While generally expectant of seasonal monsoon rains, tourists were surprised by the scale of the flooding that swept through the area.
"It feels like I have got a second life after arriving here," said Yasmin from the safety of the airfield. (AFP)